It’s no surprise that digital accessibility lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) continue to increase year after year. They’ve been increasing steadily since 2017. In 2022, digital accessibility lawsuits hit 3,225 and made up almost 40% of all ADA Title III lawsuits. If your company hasn’t made its website and all digital resources, like PDFs, accessible to everyone, it is violating the ADA and vulnerable to lawsuits.
How does the ADA Title III apply to digital content?
Courts have interpreted the ADA to apply to public-facing websites because they are often considered places of public accommodation. Some courts have decided the ADA only applies to websites if the organization that created it has a physical location as well. In that case, the website is considered an extension of or a service offered by the physical place of public accommodation, which are covered by the ADA.
Other digital accessibility laws
California has one of the most significant state anti-discrimination laws, known as the Unruh Act. Plaintiffs receive at least $4000 per violation. Any company that does business with whose website is available to California residents is covered by the Unruh Act, and must be accessible or face possible legal repercussions and expensive fines. This applies even if the company is not based in California.
States with the most digital accessibility lawsuits
New York continues to be the leader in digital accessibility lawsuits by a landslide. Plaintiffs filed 2,560 in New York federal courts over inaccessible websites. This is not suprising since the plaintiffs’ attorneys who filed the most digital accessibility lawsuits are all located in New York. Many plaintiffs in New York focused on websites that have a nexus to a place of public accommodation. Some other courts, such as those in Florida and California (more on that to follow) have ruled less favorably for plaintiffs who target online-only businesses. This doesn’t necessarily mean a decrease in cases, just a shift in the focus of the lawsuit. Many New York-based lawsuits target websites with a nexus to a physical place of public accommodation.
ABELARDO MARTINEZ JR filed a lawsuit against Cot’N Wash, alleging that their website violates the Unruh Act because it was not accessible to his assistive technology. He alleges that alt text was missing, form labels were incorrectly created, and other information was incorrectly presented to assistive technology. Cot’n Wash argued that the Unruh Act did not apply in this case because Martinez had no evidence the company actually intended to discriminate against people with disabilities, a required factor. Further, they argued the ADA did not apply because the retailer has no physical location, a point which has been disputed in many courts. In this case, courts sided with Cot’n Wash on both points. While Martinez appealed to the California Supreme Court, it declined to hear the case, thus leaving the precedent set by the previous court in place.
Courts have already started seeing the impact of this case. While cases decreased slightly in California, other states simply saw a shift in the types of cases they were seeing. New York lawsuits focused on websites that had a nexus to a place of public accommodation. Also, as legal expert website JD Supra notes, “what constitutes a physical location and a nexus to a physical location is arguable, and will likely now be even more intensely litigated.”
The only way to avoid digital accessibility lawsuits is to ensure your website is compliant with digital accessibility laws at both the state and federal level. The Department of Justice is also committed to enforcing digital accessibility. That includes making websites and everything on them accessible, including PDFs of all kinds. Need a faster, easier way to make PDFs accessible to everyone? Contact us!
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Nina comes to Equidox with years of sales and marketing experience from a variety of industries and holds a BS in Language Arts Education. Nina has a passion for words, storytelling, and information, which she believes everyone should have access to regardless of ability. After spending time as a teacher with a blind student, she became much more aware of the limitations and abilities of web accessibility, and how essential it is to those experiencing disabilities. “Being able to access information equally ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity for education, employment, and success in life.”